They’re in this thing now, four candidates to be the next mayor of Hoboken, and among them stands Councilman Ravi Bhalla.
First elected to the governing body on the Zimmer Slate in 2009, Bhalla is running to be the mile-square city’s chief executive with the blessing of retiring Mayor Dawn Zimmer.
This week, Bhalla released the names of those people running on his ticket in the November 7th municipal election: Councilman Jim Doyle, Emily Jabbour, and John Allen.
“On a more general level, the dynamic of this slate represents combination of experience and new energy and reflects Hoboken’s new direction,” Bhalla told InsiderNJ.
“Councilman Jim Doyle is rock solid in terms of his record as a councilmember and an environmental attorney with the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency],” said the mayoral candidate. “He’s sincere and all business. Emily among other things, took it upon herself to form the Hudson chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America after the Sandy Hook Newton massacre and Orlando massacre. She took it upon herself to form this movement, and that in and of itself shows leadership. She’s also very active in school board issues for our kids. John Allen [newly elected to the Hoboken Democratic Committee] is an energetic whippersnapper who is a jolt of energy that this campaign will benefit from. He is a true natural. So that genuine combination of experience, energy and new ideas forms the basis of the ticket.”
In the days after Zimmer’s announcement that she intends not to run again and her decision to endorsement Bhalla to replace her after serving two terms in City Hall, Council President Jen Giattino jumped into the mayoral contest. Another candidate, Councilman Mike DeFusco, dismissed Giattino and Bhalla as self-defeating inheritors of Zimmer world, who won’t be able to get out of each other’s way as each attempts to cohere a dissolving Zimmer base. Bhalla objected to the characterization, while taking pains to point out Giattino’s party affiliation as a liability in the overwhelmingly Democratic city.
“Jen is a personal friend of mine, a ward councilmember, and everyone has their own decisions to make,” the councilman said. “I am not bothered or surprised by her candidacy, but we live in a post Trump era and a lot of the policies that are developing in the Trump Administration are having real life impacts, such as CDBG [Community Development Block Grant] funding cuts, which will an impact on the Hoboken homeless shelter, and the TRUE Mentors program and Jubilee Center and those critical needs of nonprofits citywide. We know about the impact of climate change here in this city. We have a president who thinks climate change is a hoax, but we in Hoboken know it’s real because we suffered the effects of Superstorm Sandy. This is a non partisan race but still live in the United States of America and I have questions during these times about whether healthy relationships can be cultivated with a Republican mayor.”
In some ways, DeFusco is the shiny new object of the campaign cycle.
But that’s a deficit, by Bhalla’s reckoning.
“Michael has a lot of nice ideas,” he said. “He’s been serving on the council for a year, a year and a half.
“I served for eight years, with two years as council president,” he added. “I’ve had to make really hard decisions with respect to right sizing the police department, for example. Other candidates haven’t had to make those kinds of decisions. Mike DeFusco’s in his first term. Ultimately, people should judge people by their records. The mayor and council have achieved remarkable economic turn around in Hoboken. We went from a junk bond rating to a double AA plus. The reason why is we were able to reduce or stabilize taxes over eight years. We made tough decisions about personnel. It’s never easy to make personnel decisions, but we did in order to meet our campaign promises. Again, my opponents did not have to make those decisions.”
InsiderNJ asked Bhalla what he wants voters to consider about his record.
“Saving Hoboken University Medical Center,” he said. “Hoboken was going to be left with a $52 million debt and a closed hospital, and as council president I worked with Mayor Zimmer to save the hospital and save 1,200 jobs. I’m proud to have been instrumental in that process. If I made a single unforced error it could have affected that sale.
“In addition, helping oversee the Rebuild by Design process, or a quarter or a billion – $230 million to be exact – to ensure that Hoboken is protected against coastal flooding,” added Bhalla. “It’s a legacy project that will benefit Hoboken for generations to come. I am proud to have worked side by side with Mayor Zimmer.”
Of course, the race will prove tough for all competitors involved. Unlike others contests in this cycle, including the gubernatorial where Phil Murphy leads Kim Guadagno by 27 points, no one can point to a clear frontrunner in a field where everyone is gnawing into everyone else. Those pressed to identify a weakness in Bhalla often note that he works at a politically connected law firm – Florio Perrucci Steinhardt and Fader – that handles public contracts. While hardly a handicap on its face in the broil of Hudson or New Jersey politics, Zimmer’s reformer base may no find the professional affiliation cause for celebration.
“Anyone who has a problem with me working at the law firm of former Governor [Jim] Florio is either an enemy or beset by jealousy,” said the mayoral candidate. “We have a strong record of public service as attorneys and elected officials. It is actually something for which I am very proud.”
Bhalla says he is already keeping a very active campaign work rate – and spoke to InsiderNJ about the message he seeks to impart to voters.
“We have come a long way in Hoboken but I very confident our best years yet to come,” he said. “This was a transient community that has become a place where more families are staying to raise their kids. I came to Hoboken as a bachelor at 26, I got married and we have two children in the public schools. I hope to retire here. We want to make sure Hoboken is a place where you can set your roots and live in an affordable housing market. Also, we are right across the river from President Trump’s hometown, and we are well-situated to be a world-class city.
“In a generic sense, I intend to be the infrastructure mayor,” he added. “I want to focus on water mains, bus lanes and mass transit. I see the replacemet and upgrading of water mains as a huge priority. IN addition, the north end of Hoboken has incredible untapped potential, as do the Hoboken rail yards, as the two entrances to our city. They are very important projects and I want people who come to this city via those routes to drop their jaw.”
In terms of how Hoboken fits into Hudson politics, and LD33 overlord state Senator Brian P. Stack’s reluctance to endorse a successor to Zimmer, Bhalla reiterated his dedication to harvesting votes on the ground.
“I may be Indian but I’m not a pundit, much less a political one,” he said. “I have tremendous respect for Senator Stack, but I am one-hundred percent focused on winning the voters’ approval. This morning I was at the light rail greeting voters, and right now I am on the upstairs floor of headquarters while our fundraising team is making calls. We’re running right now as if it’s Sept 1st.
Bhalla said he’s raised $150k already and has $115k cash on hand.
“This is really just the beginning – with respect to this race, we will make sure it is well funded,” said the candidate for mayor.